Riang Karunianidi – On August 16, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo presented his State of the Nation address to the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) making the commemoration of the proclamation of Indonesian independence on August 17.
In his address, there were at least five crucial points. First, the issue of Widodo's leadership. Second the issue of democracy. Third, about Indonesia in the midst of international geopolitical dynamics. Fourth, the issue of the demographic bonus. And fifth, the concept of downstreaming investment.
First, Widodo began by complaining that he is referred to as "Mr Village" (Pak Lurah) and said that "it is the fate of a president to become the paten-patenan (a Javanese term for head of a line in a traditional children's game), to be used as both an alibi and a shield.
But this is in fact the consequence of the transactional politics pursued by Widodo himself. Although in the early stages of his election in 2014, Widodo claimed he opposed transactional politics, after 10 years in power the reality is the opposite of this.
Widodo has succeeded in consolidating almost all of the political elite factions in Indonesia with the exception of the Islamic based Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS) and the Democratic Party. This consolidation was achieved by handing out projects, government positions and power. There has been almost no president post reformasi – the political reform process that began in 1998 – who has been as shrewd and cunning in pursing "transactions" as Widodo.
Businesspeople have been rewarded with the highly unpopular Omnibus Law on Job Creation, human rights criminals have been allowed to roam free thanks to the policy of pursuing a non-judicial resolution of past gross human rights violations, other sections of the political elite have been given projects in the Nusantara new capital city project in East Kalimantan, while others have been awarded big subsidies to develop electric vehicle projects.
Second, Widodo said that the "The position of President isn't as comfortable as it is perceived to be. There are big responsibilities that must be performed. There are many problems of the ordinary people that must be resolved".
He then continued saying, "With the existence of social media such as now, anything can be conveyed to the President, from the problems of the ordinary people in marginal areas, to anger, ridicule, even abuse and insults can easily be conveyed".
He continued saying, "I know, there are some that say I'm stupid, dumbfounded, don't know anything, I'm a tyrant, idiotic. I don't have a problem [with this]. Personally, I just accept it. But, what makes me sad, is that the culture of politeness and the noble character of this country appears to be disappearing. Freedom and democracy are used to vent malice and insults. The pollution of this cultural area greatly hurts the nobleness of the Indonesian nation".
Negative sentiments about freedom and democracy were previously expressed by Widodo in 2017 when he said that democracy in Indonesia had "gone too far" (kebablasan).
Anything can be conveyed to the President (sic!), but it is not certain that it will be resolved. One such example is the demands articulated by the Kamisan (Thursday) actions. These actions in front of the State Palace were initiated by three families of victims of gross human rights violations, namely Maria Katarina Sumarsih, the mother of Bernardus Realino Norma Irmawan, one of the student shot dead during the 1997 Semanggi I incident, Suciwati, the wife of renowned human rights activist Munir Said Thalib who was assassinated in 2007, and Bedjo Untung, a representative from the families of victims who were murdered, arrested and imprisoned without trial for allegedly being members of the now defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965-66.
The Kamisan actions have continued now for almost 16 years. It is hard to ignore such perseverance, but Widodo has never fulfilled their demands. Widodo has instead provided impunity for and included human rights criminals in his administration. As well as saving them from the human rights court by resolving past gross human rights violations through non-judicial mechanisms.
On the other hand, Widodo has intentionally used the examples of shallow and poor-quality criticism to legitimise negative statements about democratic space and freedom of expression. Beyond these examples, the regime's attitude towards the people's movements has instead demonstrated its repression of the freedom to speak out and express an opinion, repression against democracy.
We could cite many examples here. The repression and arrest of thousands of protesters opposing the Job Creation Law two years ago, the criminalisation of militant trade union leader Nining Elitos, the criminalisation of human rights activists Haris Azhar and Fatia Maulidiyanti, the arrest and imprisonment of Papuan anti-racism activists in 2019, and the repression of the solidarity movement for victims of the Kanjuruhan soccer stadium stampede earlier this year.
The government also enacted revisions to the Criminal Code (KUHP) that curb freedom of expression and reinstate the "haatzaai artikelen" (hate sowing articles). These are articles inherited from Dutch colonial law that functioned to silence protests against colonial power and were struck down by the Constructional Court in 2007.
Third, Widodo's arrogance in saying that Indonesia has gained international trust. This he said is because, "of the momentum of Indonesia's presidency in the G20, Indonesia's chairmanship of ASEAN, Indonesia's consistency in upholding human rights, humanity, and equality, as well as Indonesia's success in facing the global crisis over the past three years, which has boosted and placed Indonesia back on the world of world stage. In the midst of a turbulent world due to differences, Indonesia with its [state ideology of] Pancasila, with its harmony in diversity, with the principles of democracy, was able to present a space for dialogue, able to become a meeting point, and bridge the differences that exist".
In reality however, the dynamics of international politics cannot just be seen as a stage to display Indonesia to the world such a being the host of last week's ASIAN Summit in Jakarta, or the president of the G20, or an accomplished diplomat in Asia as cited by the Lowy Institute.
Why not? The people of the world have the same problem: a divided world. There are a handful of rich imperialist countries that continuously exploit the Global South and provoke hostility between countries if their interests are obstructed by one side or the other. On the other hand there is the majority of Third World countries whose energy and natural resources continue to be exploited.
These divisions have existed since the emergence of modern nations. From the First and Second World Wars, the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the NATO plus Ukrainian-Russian war until most recently the turmoil in Central Africa to free itself from French imperialism.
These divisions are not a misunderstanding that can be resolved through dialogue, finding a meeting point or bridging the differences that exist. The United Nations was established more than a century ago and there has not been a day that passed without war or conflict somewhere in the world. The key word is: imperialism which exploits Third World countries. All governments throughout the world are forced to choose a side.
Fourth, the demographic bonus which is considered such a great opportunity for Widodo's vision of a Golden Indonesia 2045. The numerous kinds of welfare cards and Widodo's assistance programs are only partial, bureaucratic, become a nest of corruption and do not build a foundation for the development of Indonesia's human resources.
The education system in Indonesia is increasingly out of reach for the ordinary people because of its high cost. Access to health services is not easy, especially in remote areas, periodic medical check-ups are still expensive while in general public health is pursued through an insurance model such as through the Social Security Management Agency (BPJS). Meanwhile wage increases for workers has stagnated.
The demographic bonuses has actually been responded to through policies such as the Job Creation Law which regulates flexibility of the labor market. This shows that the regime is not taking advantage of the demographic bonus to improve the living conditions of the ordinary people.
The needs of the Indonesian people today are free and accessible education and healthcare, decent wages and job security, affordable and decent housing and transportation and cheap basic goods. Conversely, with enactment of the Jobs Law, education has become more expensive, prices have risen and healthcare has become difficult to afford, so the number of people vulnerable to falling into miserable living conditions in Widodo's Golden Indonesia will be even greater.
Fifth, in relation to downstreaming. Widodo said that Indonesia was serious about transferring technology so that Indonesia would not become a "lazy" nation that only produces raw materials. This downstreaming is hoped to create new jobs because market commodity production activities will not just be restricted to the extraction of raw materials. With downstreaming, commodities that were exported in the form of raw materials will become semi-finished or finished goods. But beyond the issue of market flexibility of the labor market and the environmental damage caused by more companies processing raw materials, downstreaming also does not provide a foundation for the development of productive labour for the Indonesian people.
The need right now is for national industrialisation. The concept of national industrial development is the development of heavy-scale machine industries that are able to become the foundation of the development of the production process and other industries, including being able to reorganise national agriculture.
– Riang Karunianidi is a leading member of the Socialist Union (Perserikatan Sosialis) and a member of the youth organisation Resistance. Arah Juang is the newspaper of the Socialist Union.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Tentang Demokrasi, Internasionalisme dan Indonesia Emas dalam Pidato Kenegaraan President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo".]